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Maple Blossom Pesto

A Summer's Day in Spring

A Summer’s Day in Spring

We had a full day of true spring, almost summer, on Sunday. I can’t remember the last time we had a sunny Easter. Usually, egg hunts here are moved inside, where small foil-wrapped chocolates go missing in the cracks of couches, or they take place outside in the rain, where the dye on hard-boiled eggs starts to run and chocolate eggs turning to sludge; jelly beans fare even worse, even if they’re protected by a plastic egg. But this year, the entire island was humming with delighted children and startled adults, everyone outside soaking the sun into their skin and souls.

When our friends Tom and Gail just down the street called to invite us over for one final egg hunt and a gin and tonic (the egg hunt was for the kids, the drink for me), we zipped right down in our short sleeves, without any just-in-case fleece layers. That’s a rare thing here, and it always leaves me feeling slightly off-balance, like riding in a car without a seat belt or on a bike without a helmet. There are only a handful of days here when it’s truly safe to leave home without a rainproof layer.

Sunday was one of those days, and it was glorious. Tom and Gail’s backyard was a patch of gold-dappled green, and we adults sat around the patio table with our drinks, soaking up the warmth like warty old lizards while our kids ran and jumped and gamboled like spring lambs. We got to talking about maple blossoms, as one corner of their yard is dominated by a massive bigleaf maple, complete with moss and ferns on its limbs.

Bigleaf Maple Blossoms

Bigleaf Maple Blossoms

I mentioned that there’s a maple blossom pesto recipe on Langdon Cook’s blog Fat of the Land that I’ve been itching to try, but that I always manage to miss the maple blossom harvest window. Actually, what happens is that I see them hanging above our island roads, tiny green chandeliers dangling into the spring air, but I haven’t yet found a tree whose blossom-laden limbs are within my reach.

Bigleaf Maple Blossom by the Chicken Coop

Bigleaf Maple Blossom by the Chicken Coop

Tom and Gail pointed out that their maple branches are easily grabbed from the top of their chicken coop, and that some fresh pesto would be perfect with the salmon they were grilling…Did we want to stay to make some pesto and have dinner? 

Bigleaf Maple Blossoms Ready for Pesto

Bigleaf Maple Blossoms Ready for Pesto

Oh yes, we did. The kids took over the maple blossom picking, Gail grabbed some over-wintered kale from her garden bed and fresh mint from the plant by their garden hose, Tom hopped on his bike to fetch some pistachios from our local market, and we were ready to go. Alone, the maple blossoms taste a lot like fresh green  pea shoots, but with a more grainy texture. When they’ve blended into pesto with fresh kale and mint, the grainy texture disappears and their mild sweetness and hint of tonic bitterness shines through. This recipe is our adaptation of Langdon Cook’s version, and all of the measurements are approximate. Tinker around and adjust it to your taste. 

Fresh Kale and Mint for Pesto

Fresh Kale and Mint for Pesto

  • 2 cups bigleaf maple blossom buds (peel away the outer protective leaves and remove all twigs)
  • 1-2 handfuls fresh kale leaves, thick stems removed
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 2 handfuls shelled pistachios (feel free to substitute another nut)
  • 1 handful Parmesan, grated or cubed
  • olive oil, as much necessary to achieve your desired consistency
  • salt to taste

Blend maple blossoms, kale, mint, garlic, pistachios, and parmesan together well in a food processor. With the blade running, drizzle in olive oil, processing until you have a smooth paste. Add salt to taste. Serve immediately or store in the fridge, in a jar with more olive oil drizzled over the top to preserve the color. You can freeze it, but leave the parmesan out and add that in when you’ve thawed the green base; it will taste much better that way.

Bigleaf Maple Blossom Pesto

Bigleaf Maple Blossom Pesto

This was delicious on our grilled salmon and just straight from the bowl. It tastes like spring, green and vital with a hint of minty spice.

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